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International Child Mental Health - Study Group (ICMH-SG): The first 10 years

Authors:
  • Clinic for neurology and psychiatry for children and youth Belgrade

Abstract

The ICMH-SG started in 2011 as a small network of researchers from undeveloped and developing world regions. Since then, the ICMH-SG has made significant contributions to cross-cultural child and adolescent mental health (CAMH) research. It aspires to future improvements in CAMH practice and excellent cross-cultural CAMH research based on multisite projects that include different world regions and functional knowledge acquired beyond traditional educational systems, with enhanced and extended collaborations across professional disciplines. The ICMH-SG plans three strategic tracks for its activities over the following years: to deliver directly impactful research, facilitate knowledge exchange, and extend collaborations. Read more in this overview of the activities of the ICMH-SG (https://www.icmhsg.org/) done over the 10 first years.
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ISSUE 21, December 2021
International Child Mental Health
Study Group (ICMH-SG): The first 10 years
Dr. Dejan Stevanovic (Serbia),
Prof. Panos Vostanis (UK),
Dr. Olayinka Atilola (Nigeria) and ICMH-SG
During a meeting in Istanbul (Turkey) in November 2011 led by Panos Vostanis (the UK at that time), Olayinka
Atilola (Nigeria), Yatan Pal Singh Balhara (India), Mohamad Avicenna (Indonesia), and Dejan Stevanovic
(Serbia) established the International Child Mental Health Study Group (ICMH-SG; https://www.icmhsg.org/).
The ICMH-SG was conceived as a network of researchers who might ensure the inclusion of children,
adolescents, and their families, as participants, as well as clinicians and researchers working in undeveloped and
developing world regions to organize, conduct, and support cross-cultural research in child and adolescent mental
health (CAMH). Over the next ten years, the ICMH-SG has made significant contributions to cross-cultural
CAMH research; new ideas for future project development pave the road to improve global CAMH practice and
research.
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The organization
The ICMH-SG follows a natural bottom-up strategy in its structure free of affiliation with a formal registered
organization and, as such, it does not belong to any entity, society, or individual. Instead, the ICMH-SG relies on
each individual's self-control, motivation, and responsibility in any activity (the bottom) and creates collective
self-organization towards a goal (the up). Although not strictly pre-defined or regulated, the ICMH-SG has been
devoted to needs-identification, ethical, responsible, and sustainable cross-cultural CAMH research based on the
inclusiveness, rigor, openness, and transparency of our people, our activities, and our data.
Inclusiveness The ICMH-SG’s activities have included clinicians and researchers from different professional
and educational backgrounds, levels of expertise, interests, and ideas; and from different parts of the world,
especially from undeveloped and developing regions. Such inclusiveness has been built upon respect and trust
and the vision to develop together to advance cross-cultural CAMH research.
Openness The ICMH-SG has been open for new clinicians and researchers to join, new initiatives to start, and
new networks to build. There have been adaptations in response to recent findings, new ideas, population needs,
and research priorities, including open data sharing as data is intended to serve the global community.
Rigor The ICMH-SG has conducted projects and research studies with the highest scientific standards possible,
respected ethical aspects and human rights, and adhered to reliable and valid research methods; thus, producing
trustful and impactful findings to advance cross-cultural CAMH research. The ICMH-SG has introduced and
promoted CAMH research to new institutions, clinical and research groups worldwide.
Transparency The ICMH-SG has operated to be easy for others to observe and replicate our activities; the data
from any project have been transparently used and published; all communications and reports have been
transparent, too.
The people
Over the past ten years, nearly 300 individuals from 21 countries have contributed to articles or reports generated
on behalf of the ICMH-SG, data collection, interpretations, analyses, and/or logistics for its projects. The ICMH-
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SG has included early career and senior clinicians and researchers, from a range of professional disciplines, with
different interests and expertise in CAMH.
The Projects
The ICMH-SG has organized three international projects over the past ten years. The first project, “Quality of
life (QOL) and substance use among adolescents in undeveloped and developing countries”, initiated in 2011,
aimed to assess the aspects of and relationships among general psychopathology, QOL, and substance use in
general adolescent populations across undeveloped and developing countries by surveying 2,400 adolescents
from seven countries. The second project, “Recent trauma and life stress events as related to major psychological
problems among adolescents”, initiated in 2013, aimed to assess aspects of and relationships between life
stressors and traumatic events with emotional problems in adolescents via a survey of 4,000 adolescents from 11
countries. The third survey project, “Problematic internet use (PIU) and internet gaming among college and
university students worldwide”, initiated in 2018, aimed to assess the patterns of internet use of 3,400 college and
university students across more than 15 different European and Asian countries; focusing on problematic internet
use (PIU) and internet gaming disorder (IGD).
Uniqueness of the ICMH-SG
The ICMH-SG has also encouraged and helped some colleagues to publish articles for the first time in
international journals and some PhD students to acquire skills and fulfill requirements on their way to the degree
and demonstrated that it is possible to conduct collaborative multisite CAMH research without having physical
contacts among collaborators: most of us have never met each other in person (Franic, Atilol, & Stevanovic,
2014). In addition, the ICMH-SG has been able to conduct collaborative multisite CAMH research and produce
knowledge without external funds, relying on collaborators’ in-kind contributions and access to local resources
(Franic, Atilol, & Stevanovic, 2014).
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Productive Scholarly Outputs
From the data collected in these projects, 16 scientific papers were published in peer-reviewed journals, and these
were cited 316 times at the time of writing this article. In addition, the datasets advanced cross-cultural CAMH
research in several ways, most relevantly in three.
First, we studied relationships between specific psychological constructs and psychopathologies in adolescence
across different cultures to comprehensively understand the constructs and generate new hypotheses. For
example, one of our studies showed that external locus of control partially mediated the association between
cumulative trauma exposure and post-traumatic stress symptoms among adolescents (Atilola et al., 2021). The
findings directly relate to practice, implementation of interventions, and service delivery in resource-constrained
settings.
Second, we evaluated the cross-cultural measurement properties of some frequently used scales for adolescent
psychopathologies. For example, one of our studies showed that the Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale
(RCADS) has satisfactory cross-cultural validity and suitability for cross-cultural comparisons in adolescent
anxiety and depressive symptoms (Stevanovic et al., 2017) a finding that can inform planning of new studies,
especially among early career researchers, and incorporation of measures in routine service monitoring.
Third, we demonstrated relevant epidemiological data for some psychopathologies for specific regions for the
first time. For example, one of our studies reported for the first time the rates of symptoms of post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) present in adolescents exposed to trauma in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, namely 6
8% (Stupar et al., 2021). The dissemination of these findings introduced relatively new constructs to local practice
and influenced the early recognition of emerging mental health problems.
Future Directions
The ICMH-SG aspires to future improvement in CAMH practice and excellent cross-cultural CAMH research
based on multisite projects that include different world regions, functional knowledge acquired beyond traditional
educational systems, with enhanced and extended collaborations across professional disciplines. The ICMH-SG
plans three strategic tracks for its activities over the next years.
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First: deliver directly impactful research. Following good research practice and its primary mission goal, the
ICMH-SG will continue to organize, conduct, and participate in studies related to evolving CAMH priorities,
either organized by its members or by partners. It has become evident for us working on the previous ICMH-SG
projects that cross-cultural CAMH research should next move beyond epidemiological research and offer studies
with directly applicable findings in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). One focus should be studying
common psychopathologies from multiple perspectives, following transdiagnostic and neurodiverse paradigms,
and with various types of information integrated in clinical and at-risk populations of children and adolescents.
Another focus should be studying cross-culturally interventions in CAMH, such as whether and to which extent
are applicable in low-resource settings. These could include early interventions for neurodevelopmental disorders,
crisis interventions for traumatized youth, or neuro-psychopharmacological treatment for early-onset severe
psychiatric disorders. Other priorities could be replicating impactful studies by high-developed western research
groups while adapting to different socio-cultural contexts.
Second: facilitate knowledge exchange. Besides being more active in delivering articles for journals, books,
newsletters, blogs, and other means of communication, the ICMH-SG plans to launch an international, peer-
review journal. The journal will be a hub for articles reporting cross-cultural CAMH studies and whose authors
are mainly from undeveloped and developing world regions. The objective is to produce an integrative (i.e.,
combining various types of information related to CAMH) and interactive journal (i.e., providing support at
multiple levels for inexperienced authors and researchers). In addition, education online training and
consultations on conducting cross-cultural CAMH research will be established with our members and online
webinars related to cross-cultural CAMH to disseminate knowledge and skills to a broader audience. We are now
living in an era in which bringing in trainees and others without access to traditional structures is not only easy
to manage but it is also functional and impactful.
Third: extend collaborations. The ICMH-SG has been developing fast, with more and more collaborators added
since 2011. Over the next ten years, the ICMH-SG plans to grow by including more collaborators in its activities
and collaborating with other national and international CAMH and allied organizations further. The
collaborations would involve exchanging communications with interested partner individuals and organizations,
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sharing experiences and knowledge, sharing logistics, establishing future connections, and developing links with
community and service user groups. Integrating various types of information for improved cross-cultural CAMH
is only possible through mutual collaborations between different parties, in which global networks, such as the
ICMH-SG, play an increasingly important role.
Looking back at our kick-off meeting in 2011, our goal was to make impactful changes through cross-cultural
CAMH research rather than to create an influential network. Our vision is to advance cross-cultural CAMH
research over the next ten years to secure inclusiveness, accessibility, and sustainability for the benefit of
vulnerable children, youth, and families across the world. Based on the experience of the first phase of the ICMH-
SG and the evidence-based presented above, we passionately believe that this expanding and evolving network
can significantly contribute to global cross-cultural policy, research, practice, and service provision. In the
aftermath of the unprecedented COVID 19 pandemics, CAMH needs and services will face new challenges in
the face of decreasing resources and a need for their different allocations of services and research resources. This
‘new’ reality will also bring opportunities through digital technologies, learning, and requirements for CAMH to
adapt to and address population needs as a global network that can respond to priorities by producing, sharing,
and disseminating knowledge across large regions.
The ICMH-SG illustrates how a grassroots approach to research and practice can complement established
international policy and professional bodies in their strategic goals. We thus extend an invitation to interested
colleagues and organizations to contribute with new ideas for future collaborations.
References available on the request.
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